By Kat Riddler, Editor-In-Chief
Do not make fun of your friends for “wasting” their time playing League of Legends or other video games for hours on end—they could be practicing to be professional gamers or eSport athletes.
While video games were not even created until 1958, the video game industry has made great strides over the years with new and emerging technological advances. The new frontier for video games seems to be leaning toward the realm of sports. Not sport games, but people playing games for sport. There have been competitions like speed runs in the past, but the rise of the professional gamer and eSports is a different type of competition.
According to espn.com, professional gamers can earn six-figure salaries, sell out arenas at gaming tournaments, and even get college gaming scholarships. With large amounts of money at stake in competitions there have been problems with match fixing and athlete doping. To mitigate these issues, the World Esports Association was created in 2016 to be like the IAAF in athletics to keep the competition fair.
CNN wrote a story on professional gamers explaining the sport’s rapidly increasing popularity. CNN wrote in May 2016, “[T]he eSports global audience grew from 204 million to 292 million between 2014 and 2016—a 43 percent increase in just two years—and it’s projected to exceed 427 million around the world by 2019.”
In 2016, there was a big push to make esports globally recognized by submitting professional gaming as an Olympic sport. The International e-Sports Federation (IeSF), a South Korean organization, submitted a request to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on February 19, 2016, to obtain information on how to gain recognition for competitive gaming as part of the Olympic Games. IeSF received an answer on April 8, 2016, with the materials and paperwork to move forward with the request.
TheScore eSports reported that applicants were required to fill out paperwork that covered basic information, popularity, history and tradition, universality, governance, and development of the sport. Evaluations of applications were reviewed in December.
The International eGames Committee (IeGC), a non-profit organization, in cooperation with the IOC hosted an esports event in Rio de Janeiro alongside the Olympic Games later that year.
There was a two-day showcase held on August 15 and 16 last year to compete in and promote video gaming to the non-gamer population. Ally from eTeam Canada received gold at the Rio de Janeiro eGames Showcase 2016, Larry Lurr of the USA was awarded silver, and Mexico’s MKLeo finished in the bronze medal position. The eGames 2018 planning is already underway with discussion with South Korea and Japan.
ESports has faced some scrutiny from the X Games. The X Games are aired on ESPN and started in 1995 showcasing sports such as snowboarding. In 2016, the X Games gave out medals for the winners of a Halo 5 tournament. Freestyle skier Kristi Leskinen went to Twitter and attacked the winners, saying they were not real athletes. She later clarified that she thinks X Games medals should be reserved for athletes who risk injury.
ESports have not gone away, despite opposition. ESPN launched a website focused solely on eSports. They feature stories like Stephens College of Columbia, Missouri, being the first all women’s school to offer varsity eSports. News stations like CNN and others are consistently posting stories on the topic and following tournaments.
Earlier in February this year, the National Basketball League’s commissioner Adam Silver announced the “NBA 2K eLeague” partnership with Take-Two Interactive Software. This will be the first official eSports league that is operated by a U.S. professional sports league. The eLeague is a joint venture that has potentially 30 NBA organizations having an e-team of their own with five professional gamers paid to play a version of the NBA 2K video game. The eLeague is set to launch in 2018.
But it is not just a United States sport. It was announced on April 17 that the Olympic Council of Asia that it will include eSports in the 2018 Asian Games and make it a medal sport in 2022.
It is easy to see that esports are on the rise, so if you want to be one of the first competitors in the Olympics for eSports, you better start practicing.